What’s More Shameful Than Nude Photos of a Member of Congress?

thinking that they’re shameful.



LET ME STATE THIS RIGHT OFF THE BAT: Revenge porn is sexual assault. And Katie Hill, the thirty-two-year-old Democratic representative for California’s 25th District who has resigned over nude photos of her leaked by her ex, has been violated as completely as if she’d been raped.

Though you be in sunny Des Moines and I in Toronto, I can hear you think, “Nonsense. Katie Hill suffered embarrassment, but not the physical horror of rape.” And I agree with you.

Nonetheless, psychological horror is as real as physical, and can scar someone irrevocably. Violation is not confined to the physical. Assault is legally described as “the least of touching without consent,” and can also include a threat, if the person under threat believes that the threat is real and imminent. This removes any mitigating idea of degree, that below a certain threshold it’s not assault.

What is being defended here is the integrity of body and mind. To rape is to annihilate a woman’s ownership and control of their own body, to render them powerless, to break them. Rape is negation.

Rape means a woman having to process the contradictory ideas that she is both a victim (weak), but in ways subtle and overt, also the perpetrator, because she “brought it on herself.” In rape, a woman becomes the specific target of generalized male powerlessness turned to rage.

Women enrage men, because heterosexual men are eternally in competition with each other on every level; sexual conquest is a primary way for a man to “win” the competition. In the sexual realm it appears at first that women call the shots, picking and choosing from the roster of strutting competitors.

But male identity is a fragile construct that needs constant shoring up. Men live in a constant state of sexual anxiety, and as they jockey for their place in the pecking order, humiliation is a constant threat. One humiliation too many, and a poorly socialized male with a wounded ego can react with aggression against its perceived cause.

A humiliated male is a dangerous beast.

Don’t try to win this one. Either she was too sexual and therefore an irresistable temptation (a whore), or she was not sexual enough and therefore distant and cold, a rejection ( a bitch). There is no change of women’s behavior that will create safety for women because women aren’t the problem and never have been, except in men’s minds.

Katie Hill, in other words, was asking for it.

It boggles my mind, already heavily into boggled mode as the impeachment circus enters the Big Top, that nude pictures of Katie Hill should even be an issue, especially when there is a US President who enumerates his nauseating sexual “conquests” with nothing less than full macho (insecure) locker-room pride and whose advice to “grab ’em by the pussy” remains his most eloquent, or at least most famous, contribution to modern political discourse.

This gives an extra edge to that bitter joke:
“What’s the definition of a slut?
A woman with the morals of man.”

Women are still judged by a supposedly exalted standard based on the assumption that men get to control, in fact, own, women. They’re judged on virginal innocence and “purity,” especially in North America, where Puritan mores are deeply embedded in our culture.

You must forgive a man his little dalliances (abuse, rape?), goes the idea, because that’s just the way men are; but the unavoidable conclusion is that women are still men’s property, and who wants damaged, or even used, goods?

Women are pilloried when they presume to enter public life. The trope of the dumb blonde emphasizes the role of women as decorative, not useful. You can be pretty or smart, preferably the former, and never both. Incompetence, acceptable if feigned but preferably real, removes any threat a woman might pose to a man’s fragile ego; it’s another infantilizing way to be innocent.

When women refuse to stay in their place, they’re swiftly punished. They’re told to keep their mouths shut, for the sound of a woman’s public voice is always deemed to be intolerable: “strident,” “shrill;” always piercing and unpleasant when she is usurping public space. It’s too much like a harping mother, that original castrator.

Women who insist on being competent pay for that trespass. They’re ugly, they’re lesbian, or, for example, in Michelle Obama’s or Amal Clooney’s case, the rumor begins to circulate online that they’re actually men who’ve had sex reassignment surgery, and their husbands gay, because how could a real woman be so strong ,confident, intelligent and successful? How could a real man tolerate being married to such a woman? (Apparently, not at all, though the assessment ‘real man’ is entirely in the mind of the troll.)

I never stop mentioning, so I might as well continue, my shock at seeing a particular meme of Hilary Clinton prior to the 2016 election. It had been posted by a young male Sanders supporter and pictured her speaking into a cell phone, with the caption, “Shut the bitch up.”

It doesn’t matter what you think of Clinton’s campaign or policies, because obviously that’s not what shut the bitch up is about. It’s about the outrage of a man that arises from the idea of a woman occupying a man’s rightful place.

Forty years of feminism, I thought, seem to have been for nothing. Powerful women are still “bitches” (a female dog, literally; compare “subhuman” and “infestation”) and that imperative to shut them up carried a not-so-subtle undercurrent of violence, because how, exactly, does one shut the bitch up when apparently she has no interest in doing so of her own accord?

I see this happening right now, all over again, with Elizabeth Warren. The Twitter and YouTube trolls are lined up at their computer keyboards like the elves in Santa’s workshop, chipping away at her credibility and character. Who’s she compared to? Narcissistic, unelectable Bernie Sanders, another old white entitled male, because anyone but a woman, although it’s framed as “there’s no money for her policies” i.e. “socialist.” And Bernie isn’t?

She stands head and shoulders above the other Democratic candidates (and I’m gay, if I thought Pete was better I’d damn well want to say so), she’s done her time in the trenches and she’s fierce in speaking truth to power.

That’s the problem.

In a just world, Katie Hill’s ex-husband would be charged for the vicious act of sending these images without her consent, the public would be outraged by his violation of her privacy, and a woman would enter relationships with the same freedom as a man, without it affecting her career prospects or being judged “sinful.”

For make no mistake, workplace ethics and power differentials be damned: this is about sin, and Katie Hill is wearing the scarlet letter with more eyes fixed upon her than Hawthorne could ever have imagined possible. Mike Pence must be singing hallelujah.

In a just world, consensual sex between adults would be seen as natural, normal and good, and unworthy of comment, so that the very idea of shame in this context wouldn’t even arise. Ditto our frail, marvelous, imperfect human bodies. We’d have nothing to hide.

But maybe I meant to say in a perfect world.

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In which I get all squishy about Melania.

Good morning, I’ve had a most

instructively contrary twenty-four hours and damn it, I mean to share.

I’ve bashed my erstwhile Monday Man-Crush, The-Person-Called-Trudeau (I didn’t mean it, baby, it must have been the string beans, honest!) in broad daylight on The Guardian’s website (on the other hand you never picked up your cell, and you dance like a str8-tard, nyah!); and now, in response to » a deliciously spiteful article on Medium, I’ve stood up for The Great Mannequin, Her Royal Trophy-ness, The Missus Melania—and may every Progressive worthy of the name heave great gobbing globules of spittle on me should I dare show my face in public again.

And how much, I ask myself, do I really care?  And do I agree with myself?  Politics is so confusing.

Here’s the link to the Medium article:

» Melania Trump Isn’t a Black and White Issue

And here’s my response:


When I, progressive as I am

Melania-trump-wife-of-donald-trump-modeling-pictures
Melania deserves – less Photoshop?

down to my toes and up to my increasingly wrinkled brow, see a — critique? Article? such as this one — searching for the right word here. What do they call it when someone is denounced from a pulpit? Anathema.

Anyway, when I see an, err, anathema, I have a strategy. First, I read it through, even though I may have to prop open my eyelids like they do to Malcolm McDowell as the protagonist in “A Clockwork Orange”. I find cocktail toothpicks work well for this.

It’s not that I’m bored. Far from it. In fact, in the case of this particular anathema, from the first sighting of the words “gets what she deserves” I’m filled with revulsion. Now, as a writer and an artist, I know that revulsion is often a good sign, a sign that the work has had a profound effect on me. I mean, I didn’t set out to read anything with the word “Trump” in it expecting a day in the country and a hamper from Holt Renfrew, you hear what I’m saying?

Second, and I know you’re all following along here, I put on my conservatard-proof full-body nuclear jumpsuit, ready for the onslaught of “you liberals” and “nothing better to do” and “nyah nyah you lost we won” off-the-rack progressive-bashing, which involves little imagination but a lot of spraying saliva. Check.

And third, I attempt to fashion a reasoned response, because though I don’t agree with a lot of what you say — and maybe even you don’t agree with a lot of what you say — I am darned determined to back you up as much as I can, as though we were a divorcing couple who hold hands in public but fight at home with the curtains closed.

So honey, now that the curtains are closed — I understand your righteous indignation, and I’m all for it, but let’s talk. Let’s leave “she’s costing the taxpayer money”, because that’s just silly. Anyone in the role of FLOTUS is costing the taxpayer money, vapid or not. And it’s interesting to speculate on the hand-brushing-away thing, but neither you nor I nor anyone has the slightest clue what that is about, not really. You are reading into that gesture a confirmation of a story you have built up about Melania.

Melania Trump made choices that many women might have made had they had the opportunity, and I don’t particularly see anything vile or even surprising about them. She had, as far as I’ve read, a successful career, she married a wealthy man and took every advantage of that—and what would the rest of us do, eat Pot Noodles and shop at the Sally Ann?— and now, (here’s my story) to her astonishment, and possibly horror, she’s married to the President, with every eye upon her. She may be unfit, she may take a deep breath and rise to the occasion. I suspect the latter.

No, let’s be honest, I hope for the latter. I want women to be strong and successful and rise to the occasion; I’m just a sucker for hope, that way.

But in no way, no way, is she responsible for her husband’s performance or his policies. No way is she responsible for his crass behavior or his beliefs, assuming he actually has some. No way does her position as first spouse necessarily mean that she supports him.

What am I saying, ultimately? Resist the urge to blanket condemn anything that Trump touches, including his wife. It’s not a black and white issue, your words, not mine; but your insistence on having Melania play the role of “evil consort” leaves no room for nuance, and nuance, god help us, is what we crave more than ever.

Have some empathy for someone caught up in a role they never anticipated, have some faith. And never, never put your sister down.

Great piece, by the way.